The Effects of Age on the Strategic Use of Pitch Accents in Memory for Discourse: A Processing-Resource Account

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In two experiments, we investigated age-related changes in how prosodic pitch accents affect memory. Participants listened to recorded discourses that contained two contrasts between pairs of items (e.g., one story contrasted British scientists with French scientists and Malaysia with Indonesia). The end of each discourse referred to one item from each pair; these references received a pitch accent that either denoted contrast (L + H* in the ToBI system) or did not (H*). A contrastive accent on a particular pair improved later recognition memory equally for young and older adults. However, older adults showed decreased memory if the other pair received a contrastive accent (Experiment 1). Young adults with low working memory performance also showed this penalty (Experiment 2). These results suggest that pitch accents guide processing resources to important information for both older and younger adults but diminish memory for less important information in groups with reduced resources, including older adults.

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